[lg policy] book review: Multilingualism: A Critical Perspective

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jan 6 14:19:30 UTC 2011

Multilingualism: A Critical Perspective

AUTHORS: Blackledge, Adrian and Angela Creese
TITLE: Multilingualism
SUBTITLE: A Critical Perspective
SERIES TITLE: Advances in Sociolinguistics Series
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd
YEAR: 2010

Valeria Buttini, University of Basel/University of Turin


Blackledge and Creese carry out an investigation of multilingualism from a
critical perspective, based on the analysis of classroom linguistic practices in
Gujarati, Bengali, Chinese, and Turkish complementary schools in Britain. The
book contains 11 chapters.

In the first chapter, "Opening up multilingual spaces," the authors discuss the
importance of a critical perspective on multilingualism and raise some questions
-- What does it mean to young people to be multilingual? What do multilingual
speakers' linguistic resources mean to them? Are they happy to discard their
languages, and assimilate to English, or are there other issues at stake? What
does it mean if speakers appropriate and make use of linguistic practices not
typically associated with their "ethnic" or "heritage" group? -- that will later
be answered. The eight schools where they conducted the investigations are
introduced, and some of the social and linguistic issues important to
participants in these schools are presented.

In the second chapter, "Multilingualism, ideology and practice," Blackledge and
Creese present the theoretical base of their investigation while reviewing
previous research in the fields of multilingualism, multilingualism in education
and complementary schools. The authors argue that languages are social
constructs. They do not share the idea of bilingualism as "double
monolingualism" (Heller 2006:83), and state their view of multilingualism as the
appropriation and incorporation for meaning-making of any and all linguistic
resources which come to hand. They argue that, however, many people's identity
is inexorably linked to their language. Thus, linguistic practices are always
shaped by language ideology, and language ideologies are shaped by linguistic

In the third chapter, "Ethnography of multilingualism," the authors discuss the
notion of ethnography of multilingualism as a means to tell their story of the
multilingual practices of young people and their teachers in complementary
schools. They argue that this is a critical approach that shows how languages
practices are connected to the very real conditions of people's lives, and to
discover how and why language matters to people in their own terms (Heller
2008:250). The principle research methods used in the investigation
are described.

In the fourth chapter, "A multilingual research team," Blackledge and Creese try
to give an account of working in a multilingual team of researchers and to
describe how identity politics influenced relations in the field and within the
team. Through a series of vignettes authored by the members of the research
team, they represent the voices of the nine researchers as they reflected on
their relationship to their participants, and the way they were able to
negotiate their identities as researchers within them. Three themes that emerge
in the researchers' accounts are then discussed: insiders/outsiders
positionality; language and cultural background; issues of position
and privilege.

In the fifth chapter, "Separate and flexible bilingualism in complementary
schools," the two seemingly contradictory yet co-existing sets of beliefs and
practices relating to bilingualism in the complementary schools are described by
the authors through extracts. Participants, usually teachers, on one hand argue
for language "separation" in complementary schools. This position is named
"separate bilingualism", otherwise referred as "double monolingualism" (Heller
2006:83) or "bilingualism with diglossia" (Baker 2003; Fishman 1967). On the
other hand, both teachers and young people practice what Blackledge and Creese
call a "flexible bilingualism", during which they call into play diverse sets of
linguistic resources. "Flexible bilingualism" corresponds to the terms
"translanguaging" (Garcia 2007:xiii) and "heteroglossia" (Bailey 2007). The
authors argue that there are links between these two different sets of beliefs
and practices relating to bilingualism and conflicting political, pedagogical
and sociolinguistic discourse on language. In particular, the propose that an
ideology of "separate bilingualism" is upheld in some of their participants'
discourses through recourse to powerful and pervasive political and academic
discourses, which view languages as discrete and tied to nation and culture in
simplified and coherent ways. An ideology and practice of separate bilingualism
allows teachers to articulate, organize and assemble resources to counter the
hegemony of other "mainstream" institutional accounts of nation, history,
culture and language. However, in doing so the schools themselves sometimes
settle on simplified cultural narratives.

In the sixth chapter, "Official and carnival lives in the classroom," the
authors conduct a Bakhtinian analysis to identify how meaning-making emerges as
an ongoing dialogic process at a number of different levels. Focusing on the
Turkish and Chinese schools, they argue that using "carnivalesque" language,
students introduce new voices into classroom discourse and create "second lives"
which provide alternatives to the official worlds of their teachers.

In the seventh chapter, "Multilingual literacies across space and time," the
authors' focus is on the use of folk stories as a resource to negotiate
identity, culture and heritage. The teachers see folk stories as symbolic
footprints of a culture and a community, and use them to invoke features of the
collective memory of community, or sometimes to endorse traditions, values and
beliefs. However, young people often challenge and question some of their core
elements: folk stories offer them a context in which they can both share
constructions of culture and resist them.

In the eighth chapter, "Contesting 'language' as 'heritage'," Blackledge and
Creese investigate in greater depth the negotiations involved in the teaching
and learning of "heritage". They find out that multilingual young people in the
complementary school classrooms use linguistic resources in creative ways in
order to negotiate subject positions that often appear to subvert school's
attempts to impose them "heritage" identities.

In the ninth chapter, "Inventing and disinventing the national," the meaning of
"nationalism" in the context of complementary school classrooms is investigated.
The students, mainly born and raised in the UK, do not always accept their
teachers' positioning of them for example as "Bangladeshi" or "Chinese." In
fact, they sometimes contest the notion that they should accept national
belonging and affiliation to the territory of their familial ancestors.

In the tenth chapter, "Translanguaging in the bilingual classroom," the authors
adopt a language-ecological perspective (Van Lier 2008) in order to describe the
ideological, interrelational and interactional opportunities and constraints in
complementary school classrooms. Teachers and students construct and participate
in a flexible bilingual pedagogy, adopting a translanguaging approach to
pedagogy: Both languages (English and Gujarati, for instance, or English and
Chinese) are used simultaneously to convey the full message, and they are both
needed in connection to one another (Lopez 2008).

In the eleventh chapter, "Multilingualism: future trajectories," the authors
raise new questions about which direction will be taken by research in
multilingualism when old ethnicities interact with new possibilities, when
linguistic practices get more diverse, and when the increasing mobility of
people and global communication accelerate linguistic change. They do not think
that multilingualism is always in itself an important feature of the social
word, it is however worthy of investigation, if only because it provides a lens
through which we can see more clearly the ways in which language practices are
socially and politically embedded and the ways in which some linguistic
practices become the basis of social differentiation.


Overall I found Blackledge and Creese's book to be quite manageable and pleasant
to read. The book has a very clear structure that would make the reading
accessible even to a reader who does not have a detailed knowledge of this
field. The review provided of prior research is coherent and quite detailed, and
I also find their innovative approach outlined well and presented convincingly.

I think this book should be of interest to a large group of people interested in
the intersection of language, sociology, and culture. It should work for both
researchers and advanced students as a way to acquaint oneself with the more
recent work in the field. I also think it would probably work in an introductory
course to multilingualism for students: All the steps of a well-conducted
research are clearly presented (see for instance chapter 3 on research questions
and research methods). However, students may wish for the inclusion of a
glossary of terms.


Bailey, B. (2007), "Heteroglossia and boundaries", in M. Heller (ed.),
Bilingualism: a social Approach. Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 257-76.

Baker, C. (2003), "Biliteracy and transliteracy in Wales: Language planning and
the Welsh national curriculum", in N. Hornberger (ed.), Continua of Biliteracy.
Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 71-90.

Fishman, J. (1967), "Bilingualism with and without diglossia; diglossia with and
without bilingualism". Journal of Social Issues, 23, pp. 29-38.

Garcia, O. (2007), "Foreword", in S. Makoni and A. Pennycook (eds.),
Disinventing and Reconstituting Languages. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp.

Heller, M. (2006), Linguistic Minorities and Modernity, 2nd ed.
London: Continuum.

Heller, M. (2008), "Doing Ethnography", in W. Li Wei and M. Moyer (eds.), The
Blackwell Guide to Research Methods in Bilingualism and Multilingualism, pp.
249-62. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lopez, L. E. (2008), "Indigenous contributions to an ecology of language
learning in Latin America", in A. Creese, P.W. Martin and N. H. Hornberger
(eds.), Encyclopedia of Language and Education, 9, Ecology of Language. New
York: Springer Science+Business Media LLC., pp. 141-58.

Van Lier, L. (2008), "The ecology of language learning and sociolcultural
theory", in A. Creese, P. Martin and N. H. Hornberger (eds.), Encyclopedia of
Language and Education, 9, Ecology of Language. New York: Springer
Science+Business Media LLC., pp. 53-65.


Valeria Buttini is in her second year of PhD study in Italian Linguistics at the
University of Basel. Her research interests lie in the fields of
sociolinguistics, multilingualism, second language acquisition, text
linguistics, and syntax. At the University of Basel she has taught a course on
"An Introduction to Second Language Acquisition" and is currently teaching
"Argumentative writing". She also teaches Italian as a Second Language.


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